A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Participatory Design

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Participatory design is an approach to design that attempts to actively involve end users in the design process to help ensure that the product designed meets their needs and is usable. This approach is focused on process and is not a design style. For some, this approach has a political dimension of user empowerment and democratisation. For others, it is seen as a way of abrogating design responsibility and innovation by designers.



Deepening Online Conversation: How and Why to Use a Common Referent to Connect Learners with Diverse Local Practices   (members only)

In this article, the authors argue that online learning conversations need to go beyond the common “information exchange” to a deeper level of interaction in order to help learners build situated knowledge that is useful in their local contexts. The article begins by looking at the commonly-used framework of a Community of Practice (CoP) and in particular, the challenges that designers can expect to encounter when knowledge building moves online, and conversants do not have a shared practice. The authors explain why this is problematic in terms of having insufficient grounding for the conversation and describe how online designers can compensate for the lack of shared practice by providing a common referent. Finally, the authors discuss three considerations that online designers should take into account in crafting a common referent (the richness of representation provided, the domain specificity required, and how the referent is conceptually framed) and explore their implications for both formal and informal learning environments.

Wise, Alyssa, Thomas Duffy and Poornima Padmanabhan. Educational Technology Publications (2008). Academic>Collaboration>Community Building>Participatory Design


Design Case: Building Community in a Design Effort in a Decentralized, Individualistic Setting   (members only)

WebFeat is a web development effort by about 40 students, faculty and staff in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington. In this design environment, the challenges of building community among the members of the design team are substantial. We devised a suite of tools and processes designed to foster a sense of community and participation in the development process, as well as to lay the groundwork for participatory maintenance of the site in the future.

Ramey, Judith A. and David K. Farkas. Symposium on Designing Interactive Systems (1997). Design>Web Design>Collaboration>Participatory Design


Designing the Democratic

The role of the information architect (IA), interaction designer, or user experience (UX) designer is to help create architecture and interactions which will impact the user in constructive, meaningful ways. Sometimes the design choices are strategic and affect a broad interaction environment; other times they may be tactical and detailed, affecting few. But sometimes the design choices we make are not good enough for the users we’re trying to reach. Often a sense of democratic responsibility is missing in the artifacts and experiences which result from our designs and decisions.

Owen, Jamie. Boxes and Arrows (2009). Articles>Information Design>User Experience>Participatory Design


Designing User Experiences for Applications Versus Information Resources on the Web

The relatively recent adoption of user-focused design practices by the Web design and development community--including personas, participatory design, paper prototyping, and the like--highlights important distinctions between the user experiences of desktop applications and those of information spaces. With the growing desire for usable Web applications, these distinctions become more topical and important to understand. Though the process of designing and creating application and information space user experiences for the Web is virtually the same--even if the deliverable design documents may differ--their user experiences are fundamentally and profoundly different. For designers, business analysts, marketing consultants, and others who are sincerely interested in delivering the best user experiences online, understanding these distinctions can reduce the cost of design and improve the likelihood of user acceptance.

Frishberg, Leo. UXmatters (2006). Design>User Experience>Programming>Participatory Design


Designing Web Sites to Educate, Induce Action, and Promote Participatory Communication for Decision-Making   (PDF)

Knowing more about how web site characteristics work to reach non-e-commerce goals can guide web designers working towards some of those goals. Environmental advocacy sites are apt to provide rich examples of how web sites try to educate, change behaviors and values, induce action, and promote participatory decisionmaking. Studying them, then, may help us understand how the characteristics of their web sites work. This paper explores how a particular advocacy group web site, www.seedcoalition.org, educates and induces action in its visitors. The site seems likely to effectively educate and induce action, but could do more to induce deliberation and encourage interpersonal communication and discussion about issues, which might better support the group’s long term goals.

Sehmel, Heather. STC Proceedings (2001). Presentations>Web Design>Education>Participatory Design


The Methodology of Participatory Design   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Technical communicators have lately become interested in participatory design as a way to structure and guide their research and development efforts, particularly in online media. But attempts to use participatory design - in technical communication and elsewhere - have been hampered because participatory design has typically been seen as an orientation or field rather than a methodology with its own methods, techniques, and acceptable range of research designs. In this article, I work with a range of participatory design sources to describe it as a methodology useful for technical communicators. After providing the historical and methodological grounding for understanding participatory design as a methodology, I describe its research designs, methods, criteria, and limitations. Finally, I provide guidance for applying it to technical communication research.

Spinuzzi, Clay. Technical Communication Online (2005). Articles>Collaboration>Methods>Participatory Design


On Creation and Consumption

While the design of democracy is a wonderful thing, democratic design is less positive. We’ve heard over and over that “everyone is a designer,” and that through a combination of user-generated content, ubiquity of access, and new tools, design has finally made its way out of an ivory tower and into the grasp of the masses. What, exactly, have the masses gotten their grubby paws into? Can one truly claim to be a designer when they upload a picture to Facebook or remix a video for YouTube?

Kolko, Jon. Interactions (2009). Design>Content Management>Social Networking>Participatory Design


Participatory Design and Technical Communication: Challenges and Opportunities in Programmatic Assessment and Evaluation   (peer-reviewed)

Technical Communication pedagogies that are informed by theories of Participatory Design offer new challenges and opportunities for both the assessment of student work and group projects, and in the evaluation of programmatic goals.

Moore, Michael R. CPTSC Proceedings (2000). Articles>Education>TC>Participatory Design


Participatory Team Process in Information Design   (PDF)

Information Design often focuses on product over process and ignores the valuable role that technical communicators can play in facilitating a true team design activity. In this paper, authors argue for a definition of information design that focuses on process and offer a proven methodology called Participatory Team Process in recognition of its roots in Participatory Design. Authors discuss tenets of methodology; spell out the technical communicator’s role as facilitator, information manager, writer, and editor; and offer three examples of products created with the process: a computer interface, safety rule book, and curriculum guide.

Racine, Sam J., Carol S. Hoeniges and Christina R. Schulz. STC Proceedings (2003). Articles>Information Design>TC>Participatory Design

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